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Best Forum Based Hosting Services

Forum Software and Hosting- You must be aware of the Forums in general and also must be aware of the purpose of they serve. If you are not then it is fine as we will be discussing the same in details as what is Forums software, what are the various types of Forums applications available to you in the market and what sort of hosting is required and what are the best hosting services available among many of the web hosting providers.

Forums are nothing but a platform which has been designed in special way that encourages users to connect to each other and discuss on various topics and share their knowledge or queries or issues. While Forums can be part of your website, there are many websites that work as standalone Forum website. Forums are more like social networks but it a controlled manner and has a specific layout that makes it easy for the user to participate and contribute. 

Forums are provided by many of the companies in order to offer a way to get customers share their suggestions, feedback related to products or services and even share any knowledge with other consumers of the website. They can even interact with the staff of the company through Forums. 

Forums are generally niche in category as people with like mentality get to talk to each other. There are many specialized forums based on certain category only.

What is a Forum?

An online forum is nothing but a website that has been designed in a special manner which is to facilitate consumers of the website to interact with each other related to anything they wish (generally towards the category of the forums). 

A forum can have a number of topics or a single topic around which many users may discuss. These forums are controlled by the website administrator and they hold the right to control the environment and they can ban anyone out of the forum if any customer or user is spamming or using methods which are not ethical or not right for the forum users. 

All the conversations started are termed as threads and anyone who is registered with the forums can join in the thread to discuss the topic. There may be case that user has to register first in order to get involved with the conversation while some do allow without registering. 

The organization of the messages as well as topics is dependent on the structure of the message board which can be a pre-defined one or the website owner can have it designed as per the needs.

Forum Moderation - Administrators and Administration

While the forums content is contributed by the users or customers of the website however there are special people who control the environment of the forum. These special people are called administrators or moderators. They hold various rights from deleting the post, banner a user, creating topic for discussion, creating main category thread etc. and much more. 

It is possible to post on any of the forums anonymously or it make ask you to have a registered account first and then you are allowed to post. 

In order to run the forum smoothly so that nothing wrong happens in terms of maintaining forum’s decorum as well as useless content being posted in threads etc. moderator do come into picture who hold below responsibilities: 

- Take care of the spammers and kick them out of the system by banning them or deleting their account

- Take care of the forum decorum so that conversations are polite as well as civil 

- Involve or engage with users to encourage interaction

- Maintain the purpose of the topic being discussed (by maintaining focus) 

- Keep forums protected with any sort of violation of forum rules (such as posting website links may not be allowed) 

- Addressing issues that a user may have or help with the query 

The messages appearing on the forums can be displayed in threaded as well non threaded way

- Threaded: It is best to have threaded view where there are many people involved in the conversations and a reply may also have a further reply and so on. This allows for easier view of the thread as to which topic the answer has been referred to. 

- Non-Threaded: it is more of one sided conversation rather than two-way conversation. This is typically a scenario with companies making announcements.

Feature of Formatting Forum Posts

While many of the forums may not allow the user to format the content they are posting but many do offer the same so that users can highlight what they are trying to convey giving an extra power to communicate effectively. A user is able to: 

- Add text in various formats such as use different font, use bold, italic, underline etc. in order to differentiate content

- Turn your content (comments) of the post into paragraphs as well 

- Add a photo as well as link to Video 

- Add a website link as well as text hyperlinking

- Add business information in your signatures so you can kind of do informal business networking

- Insert tags both HTML as well as BBCode tags 

What are the options for Forum Software? 

If you are willing to insert Forum as a part of your existing website or you are starting it as a standalone website, then you have a number of options available in the market. Below are some of the most popular options for you to have a look at: 

- bbPress

- phpBB

- Vanilla Forums

- vBulletin

- Simple Machines Forums

Let’s discuss these options in details as what they have to offer.

What is bbPress?

bbPress is one of the plugins which is based on WordPress and hence the name bbPress. It was developed with the same team which actually developed WordPress software. You can run the software on a self hosted environment and not the the WordPress sub domain. 

Since the idea of development came from the team which developed from the WordPress so it has been designed with same thing being in mind. It is quite simple and lightweight and has been built using a very little code. 

It works on the same architecture as of the WordPress so bbPress code base offers all the basic and essential features and additional features are available in one of the approximately more than 200 plugins. 

Is bbPress a good option for my website?

bbPress is one of the good options to integrate if you are running your website on WordPress. This is highly compatible to run on WordPress platform so if you are looking for an option to have a website ready with forum then bbPress along with WordPress is the best fit for you to have. This will enable your users to have access to website as well as forum with single login. Apart from that you will able to enjoy a range of features in the form of plugins or extensions which are all free to use and you don’t have to worry about any sort of hosting as there are multiple options for WordPress hosting in the market.

If you don’t have a WordPress website and you are looking to use bbPress then this wont be the option available for you as bbPress is dependent on WordPress software to run and is compatible to run on with WordPress. 

If you are not willing to have bbPress as a part of your website but as the main feature of your website (in other words, a standalone feature) then you are able to do this with easy settings from the admin dashboard so you can make bbPress as your home page and it will become a Forum website. 

It would highly make sense for you to work with WordPress as it extends scalability as well as flexibility in the longer run.

Hosting Requirements for bbPress?

There are no specific requirements in order run bbPress, if you are running a WordPress already then that will suffice the requirements as whatever is required in order to run the WordPress will work with bbPress as well. It however makes sense for you to have a look at the technical requirements needed in order for bbPress to work. 

- WordPress should be installed as without WordPress it will not work 

- PHP version 5.2.4 or greater (recommended: PHP 7 or greater)

- MySQL 5.0 or higher version (recommended: MySQL version 5.6 or greater OR MariaDB version 10.0 or greater)

- Apache with Apache Module mod_rewrite enabled in the event of “Pretty permalinks' use

- Support for secured HTTP protocol (i.e. HTTPS)

This is nothing different from the WordPress requirements so if you have WordPress website working fine with latest version then you are good to go to use bbPress. 

What is phpBB?

phpBB is one of the open source and free to use software which has been developed in PHP and specifically designed for offering full featured bulletin board and forum system.

It is one of the most popular and widely used forum software and has been installed by number of website owners. It even runs on website that huge number of users coming on the website. 

While bbPress was just an extension to WordPress, on the other hand phpBB is a full fledged, standalone software suite. 

Apart from that, phpBB is one of the full fledged and fully featured systems and is completely opposite of the philosophy of WordPress/bbPress where only basic features are included in the core code and rest of the additional features are kept only with extensions. phpBB on the other hand, has included all the essential as well as advance level of features in the core code which is why it has been labelled as fully featured solution for forum.

Pros and Cons of Using phpBB

One of the best things about phpBB is that it does not require you to add any other additional feature in the form of plugin or extension. With this you are able to setup the forum with ease and you don’t have to worry about the update of the plugins as everything will be updated all at once. You wont have to look for here and there or research for the best plugin to integrate within your website as the best is already in-built.

One of the downsides of the software is actually the same which is its positive point as well which means all the features are installed automatically so which may not be the case you are willing to have as user may not be looking to have all the features available so some of the feature may become redundant. Although it is not of that big problem yet it is one of the downsides. 

What is phpBB good for? 

Although there is no specification as for which business or line of model it will be good yet basis the experience what other websites are using. Some of the target audiences may be as under: 

- Your target audience is not new to the forum stuff which means they are familiar with this system 

- They are active on other available forums as well or it is a trend that the target audience may be available on such websites already

- Some of the example websites may include websites related to stocks trading, gaming websites, and political websites.

phpBB Hosting Requirements?

There are no high end requirements for hosting phpBB software. Although there are very detailed requirements yet they are not something that is not common so it is quite easy to find these requirements with most of the hosting providers and it it provided as one click installation as well by some of the hosts. You should be able to do that from the control panel provided by the host. Below are some of the requirements for hosting: 

- A web server either Apache or IIS which should support PHP 5.4.0 or higher

- A database (any of the below options)

     . MySQL 3.23 or higher

     . MariaDB 5.1 or higher

     . MS SQL Server 2000 or higher

     . Oracle

     . PostgreSQL 8.3 or higher

     . SQLite 3.6.15 or higher

There may be some requirements for additional modules as well in order to function phpBB properly however that you should not be bothered about as it will be checked by phpBB at the time of installation (during process). 

What is Vanilla Forums?

Vanilla Forums is yet another forum software which is primarily built for enterprise level organization and it is used by some of the big organizations including Adobe. It is one of the classic software of the present times which is a requirement with an enterprise level website. it offers a powerful platform with powerful features. It comes available in two versions where one is catering to the business class and other if open source version with limited features. 

Vanilla Forums for Business

Vanilla Forums for business is a proprietary product and is cloud based service which is power packed with enterprise features. It comes with advanced features including security which is one of the prime concerns for enterprise customers. Some of the premium features include: 

- It has high performance which is best suited for enterprises 

- It offers advanced analytics so you are able to improve on forum’s performance 

- Capability for API integration

- Features to manage staff who are responsible for customer support as well as professional service

Open-Source Vanilla Forums

The open source version of Vanilla is not as powerful as of the business version obvious due to the pricing reason however it is quite simple as well as flexible option for individual users or even small businesses. The only thing is that you will have to do it all own your own without any help from the company. 

It is a good option for small businesses as well as individual users who are looking for a cheap forum solution and like to work on the customer feedback system online and improve on the product or service offerings.

Benefits of using Vanilla Forums?

With Vanilla Forums for business, you will get a rock solid product with full fledged feature that will meet all your business needs and they all extend support for anything if you get into any sort of issue. 

On the other hand, if you are using the open source version then you will get to use the robust platform at no cost, the only issue that you will have to do the setup as well as responsible for all errors or issue that may arise. It is built on strong foundation which is enterprise level so you will have best product at your finger tips with no cost.

What are the Hosting Requirements for Vanilla Forums?

There are very minimum requirements for Vanilla Forums which are as under: 

- PHP 7.0 or higher but suggested is PHP7.1 or higher

- Some PHP extensions such as mbstring, cURL, and PDO

- MySQLi (for imports only)

- OpenSSL (for social plugins)

- MySQL 5.0 or higher (or Percona/MariaDB) but suggested is MySQL 5.6 or higher 

vBulletin

This is one of the forum software which is primarily developed for commercial use and there is no open source version of the same. This has been built with a focus only for enterprise needs and comes with all essential features including advanced features as well. 

Now the the obvious question that may hit to your mind is that if there are so many other options available which are free to use then what is the point of paying price for a Forum software. This all boils down to the features you are looking for your business. With the open source version one of the problems may be lower security so with commercial software you will not have to worry about the security part as well as you will get full support in the event you run into any issues. Apart from that you wont have to worry about any sort of installation or setup as it will be taken care of by the company.  

One of the advanced features which even make it more useful is that they offer mobile apps as well. With their mobile bundle software license they allow to publish iOS as well as Android apps. 

What are the vBulletin Hosting Requirements?

There are no high end requirements as the case with other Forum software. It will require very basic requirements which are not hard to find and you can easily find a hosting provider for the same. 

- PHP 5.3.0 or higher (PHP 5.4.0 or higher is recommended)

- MySQL 5.1.5 or higher (MySQL 5.5 or higher is recommended)

- Apache server with mod_rewrite or URL Rewrite enabled

- GD or ImageMagick

- cURL or OpenSSL

What is Simple Machines Forum?

Simple Machine Forum (also termed as SMF) is one of the forum software which has been developed in PHP and is open source so free to use. It comes with a lot of plugin system which makes it very useful. 

SMF is quite popular and has a good base of loyal customers, especially webmasters and forum owners who don’t have much coding skills or experience with them. 

It comes with a built-in package manager system and mod system (the plugin ecosystem) that makes it quite flexible as well as scalable and it very easy to setup as ell as moderate. It offers all the essential features which are required with a typical forum software. 

Simple Machines Forum Hosting Requirements

When it comes to hosting SMF, it is quite common yet extensive requirements however you will find lot of hosting providers offering the same so you wont have to bother about the same. It will require some of the standard PHP libraries as well as web server configuration settings in place for the installation to work. 

It is best to look for a web hosting company that supports the installation of the SMF as it may be difficult for you to look into each of the requirements and find the host fitting into that requirement. 

Some Other Forum Software

The options that have been mentioned above are in popular use and there are many other options which are not as popular as the above ones however it would make sense for you just to have a look at those options in case that may fit into your requirements.

Open-Source Forum Options

- PunBB: is an open source platform built in PHP is quite lightweight and is a feature rich forum software. 

- Phorum: is an open source platform built in PHP and is quite flexible with the use of extension which can be plugged in or out as per your wish. 

- MyBB: it is also an open source and PHP based software for general purpose use. 

- YaBB: it is also an open source forum software which comes with lot of features and Live chat being one of the distinct feature. 

- XenForo: it is all open source and built in PHP comes with SEO as well as well social media features. It has been developed by the people behind vBulletin.

- Invision Power Board: it is a sister concern of Invision that offers e-commerce tools and CMS tools along with other features and is a great option if you are looking for more than just a forum. 

- BuddyPress: it has been developed by people behind WordPress as well as bbPress and is owned and operated by Automattic. It is infact more than a forum and offers a full functional social network platform. It comes a plugin to your existing WordPress site or blog. 

- ProBoards: it is one of the free to use forum software wherein you don’t have to worry about the hosting options as it comes with a remote hosted message borad solution. With all other forum software options you will have to have a separate hosting option. 

Commercial Vs Open Source Forum Software

We have discussed both commercial as well as open source options, so it comes down to as which one to go with. It is quite obvious that open source options are more popular than commercial ones due to the pricing factor however you get what you pay for. 

vBulletin is one of the industry leading forum software meant for commercial use. 

While open source does not cost you a penny in terms of license fee and all that you wont get the dedicated support for the same and the security is also one of the things which is lower with open source system (as the code is accessible to everyone for modification so there can be loopholes with open source) you need to upgrade the software in order to keep yourself away from the security threats. With paid versions you don’t have to worry about the upgrade thing as it will be done automatically. With the comparison of open source with the commercial one it will be clearer to you as which one will yield more performance.

phpBB vs vBulletin

Let's consider the following facts about vBulletin in a comparison to a popular open source solution - phpBB:

phpBB Advantages

vBulletin Advantages

  • phpBB offers more than 30 languages support

  • phpBB offers higher integration with social media than vBulletin.

  • phpBB offers integration with FB as well as Twitter and MySpace whereas vBulletin offers only for FB

  • phpBB offers the posting with plain text as well as HTML and BBCode whereas vBulletin supports only HTML and BBCode.

 

  • vBulletin offers a rich text editor and phpBB offers WYSIWYG editor

  • vBulletin is offered with a bundle that includes various features such as custom homepage, blog, bug tracking, project management and photo album

  • You can insert YouTube videos with vBulletin but not with phpBB.

  • vBulletin offers advanced post tagging fature whereas phpBB does not support that with the core softwarehas.

 


So it would make sense for you now as to which one to go with for your needs. If your objectives are being met with the open source version, then there is no need to go with the paid version. If that is not the case, then you may choose to go with the paid version provided you are willing to pay the amount for license. 

It will also make sense for you to note down the functions that you would like in your software and then see if that if offered along with the features with the desired forum software option. 

Once you have decided as to which plan to go with the next comes the hosting part which you don’t need to bother of in case you are going with the paid plan. If you are going to have the open source plan, then you will need to make sure of the specification being met by the web hosting provider. 

If you do not even want to get into that stuff, then lookout for a host that supports the use of the chosen forum software as they will take care of all the essential requirements beforehand and you will get support as well from them for the same in the event you run into a problem. 

Summary

So we have covered that Forums software are a great way to offer to the website user a way to interact with each other as well as the staff for any sort of issues or help. 

There are many forum software available in the market with some being more popular than the other. Commercial as well as open source options are available and it is completely basis your requirements as to which one to go with: Commercial or Open Source?

It is always good to have a review of the forum software and then go for the same. We have also covered the hosting requirements of all sort of forum software which are not very high end so it is very common to have such requirements. You are good to go with the web hosting providers who offer dedicated support for the chosen forum software. 

Forums Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

What are Forums Software? 

Forums software is nothing but is a piece of software or application which enables the website users to discuss on any topic that may interest them. They can get in touch with the staff as well and interact with the related to any sort of issue which may be in general or related to product or service. The forum can be a standalone feature or it can be just a part of the website. 

There are many options available in the market and some of the them are just plugins which can be used with WordPress website or blog and other are standalone software which can be used to make a separate website as well as a part of the website (not like WordPress plugin). 

What is the use of Database with forum software? 

The database plays an important role with the forum software as whatever discussions or any sort of data is displayed on the forum will be stored in the database. 

What is threaded forum as well as non threaded forum? 

A threaded forum is the most common use and the format of displaying the content in the forum. When a message is threaded then you can view a hierarchy view of the conversation and you can make out of the structure as to which thread the message is for or who has reverted to which message. This is the most typical example where in lot of people are involved in the conversation and there is a revert on a revert.

Non-threaded messages, on the other hand, are sort of announcements from the organization or the website webmaster where there is not requirement for the discussion.  However, if it becomes a lengthy discussion then it may look unappealing to the user and become unreadable. 

It is easy find the software that offers non threaded conversation format and there are many who offer both as option so you need to select the appropriate option so that you have both the options available to you. 

Some of the software such as bbPress as well as vBulletin offer you the ability to have both threaded as well non threaded options. With some of the software you will require a plugin to be added to the existing software in order to make it work for you. 

Is is possible to customize the forum? 

There is no certain answer to this question as it will depend on the kind of the software that you choose. Some of the forums do offer this function whereas other will not. 

The software which are based on WordPress such as bbPress do work on themes system so it is very much possible to change the look and feel of the forum page and add-remove features at your will. 

It is highly unlikely that forum software will not offer the ability to customize the forum as all software which are upgraded on regular basis will offer the ability to customize the forum to some degree or even higher (but not more flexibility as compared to bbPress).

What is the difference between a social media network and a forum? 

It is more towards the goal of both the platforms. Social media platforms are more focused on connecting people to each other with no clear intent and just to build your network and more likely as network of your own relatives as well as friends. There is no purpose of social media network apart from sharing information which is personal or may be anything but does not cater to any sort of specific information basis topics.

Forums, on the other hand, are designed to cater to special category of people and they are run in a limited and restricted manner. The intent of the forums is clear that people join forums to learn something, to share knowledge, to grow informal business network, to get queries answered, to get support from the active users of the community. 

Forums can be owned by a company for their own users so that they can connect to the staff for support or they can be run by an individual with the purpose of creating a community of like minded people who can all come on single platform to share, discuss, help and grow the community. 

It is because of this reason that forums are broken down in various specific topics based on various interests of the user. 

So social media is more of a communication platform to express your views with no intent of getting support. On the other hand, Forums are meant to be for users who are willing to share knowledge or people who are seeking knowledge.

What is the difference between HTML and BBCode?

HTML is the most common hyper text markup language which is used to build the layout of the website and it can be used to format the text the way you want it to. It offers more flexibility in terms of formatting the text however it is more prone to security threat such html code injection.

BBCode is designed primarily for the use of forums only so that user can use various tags (which are pre-defined) in order to format text. It is not as flexible as of HTML as you can format text with limited option but it is more secured option as HTML code injection is not possible with this option. 

Is there a way to keep a control on the appropriate language use? 

There is the functionality which is offered by many of the forum software, this functionality keeps replaces the inappropriate words with the correct words however this could be limited as you will need to add such words on your own so that you can replace the existing ones with the new ones. 

The auto-replace function can only be good to offer a basic correction provided you have identified new terms to be added or removed. 

If you want to control it in more sophisticated way, then you can a dedicated resource just for the purpose of correction if there is anything inappropriate in the words. 

Is it possible to add forum to existing site or need a separate website to be created? 

Yes. You wont need to create a separate website in order to run Forum with the website. if you are running your website or blog with WordPress it can be done in no time at all with the use of module or plugin such as bbPress or BuddyPress etc. 

On the other hand, if you are not on WordPress then it will take you some extra efforts to be done and you will require a developer to do all that stuff. You may also need a website designer for the forum theme to match with the website. 

Is it possible to add photos as well as video to the forum?

Most of the forum platforms do allow users to post images in the threads and it will depend entirely on the software as how it will look on website. In case of videos, some of the forums do allow the insertion of YouTube videos but not all of them. 

Is there a possibility or way to get rid of duplicate threads? 

It is quite possible that your users may post in thread which may already be present in the system so this should be looked into in order to overcome duplicity of the same. Some of the forums do offer the feature (as an add-on) so that the duplicate thread is detected well in advance and user refers to the existing thread rather than creating a new thread. 

If you want a complete control over the same then you will have to make it a manual process where in a person keeps a watch on as what is being posted and is it already exists in the system or not. 

What should be the criteria of choosing the best forum option for the website? 

It will depend on on what sort of requirements you have and basis that you can choose the one. Below are some of the factors that you need to look into before you go with any of the forum software: 

- if you have a website already hosted somewhere and you are looking to integrate a forum into that then you need to check with the hosting provider if they provide any sort of Forum software (as one click installation). This will be a great option as it will save you time as well as money. 

- You need to check your budget as well whether you are able to afford that or not. If you are OK with paying money, then you need to look at some commercial option as they will offer the advance features along with the dedicated support. 

- What sort of customization are you looking for? Some of the software do offer complete customization where some do offer a little. 

- You can also check the demo as offered by many of the forum software so you can get a sense of the function and you can test well before you make your mind to go with one. 

How does the forum software Simple Machines compare to other forum platforms such as phpBB and bbPress?

The first thing that all of the platforms being open source are free to use and all of them are built and developed using PHP scripting language. All of the open source software come with different license types so with Simple Machines you don’t have access to the core code so you are not able to make any changes in the code. 

Simple Machines has been designed to be a standalone community website and it can also be integrated with other content management systems. 

phpBB has been published under the license of ‘GNU General Public License’ and you can have access to the code so you can make modifications in the code if you wish. There are lot of custom themes available with this option and you can customize the platform as per your needs. You will also get a lot of options of plugins to integrate with the platform which is not the case with Simple Machines. 

bbPress on the other hand has been developed on the same concept of WordPress so it is available to be used with WordPress as plugin and there are lot of themes or templates to choose from. If you are running your website with WordPress, then bbPress without aby doubt is the best option to go with.